Skip to main content


Resource management in subsistence communitites: island natives retain traditional resource management methods


IGERT Fellow, Jeff Wescott, observed the cross-disciplinary nature of resource management and climate change issues in subsistence communities in Vanuatu.

One specific highlight of his fieldwork during this period illustrates the need for an expanded field of inquiry. At his ethnographic site there is a growing tension between communities of native and non-native islanders. Native families assert their claims to near-shore marine environments that they know to be productive. The relevant knowledge they use to identify these productive environments includes fish reproductive patterns and spatial distributions of fish habitats (places for the fish to hide from fishers). Natives have therefore placed taboos on these high-yield resource spaces, proscribing non-native islanders from entering. State environmental workers have visited these communities and attempted to reshape the taboo boundaries. These agents express an appreciation for the local ecological knowledge of the native communities, and ostensibly recognize the need to respect this knowledge in their own (federal) efforts to respond to climate change on the island. However, this appreciation for local knowledge has not yet influenced a change in what local people view as a monolithic and rigid state resource management regime.

Many natives have retained traditional knowledge of resource management. They view this knowledge as vital to protecting their material livelihood from the dual threats of climate change (indexed by reef destruction and coastal erosion) and a growing non-native population whom they perceive as disrespectful of local resources. This knowledge of ecological processes is routinely undercut by the political realities of confronting the subsistence and economic goals of non-native residents and the conservation goals of state and NGO environmental agents

Address Goals

Jeff commented that IGERT training provided a thorough understanding of ecological and economic factors in resource management, many of which I translated into viable areas of inquiry in an ethnographic context. Many of these processes have clear political and ethical relevance, and a researcher who is not IGERT-trained is likely to overlook these cross-disciplinary connections.